EF2 tornado spreads damage in Fort Payne

EF2 tornado spreads damage in Fort Payne

February 22nd, 2014 by Ben Benton in Local Regional News

Homes on Green Valley Circle in DeKalb County, Ala., were damaged by the storm.

Photo by WRCB-TV Channel 3 /Times Free Press.

NEW ALERT SYSTEM

DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency has switched alert systems from CodeRED to "Alert DeKalb." Residents who want to receive weather and emergency alerts need to register for the service. Go to www.dekalbcountyal.us and click on the "Alert DeKalb" banner at the bottom of the page to fill out the necessary information. Residents can call the EMA office at 256-845-8569 for help or more information.

FORT PAYNE, Ala. - An EF2 tornado injured one person, damaged more than two dozen homes and buildings - at least five of them structurally - and left residents shocked by the sudden storm that ripped through this small town around 12:30 a.m. CST Friday.

"It sounded like metal in a blender," Greenvalley Circle resident Livier Rubio said as she stood in her yard surrounded by debris.

Rubio, 31, and a resident of the area for the last 11 years, communicated through 19-year-old neighbor Ray Martinez, whose home was left unscathed.

Rubio said she, her husband, Ricardo, and their two children took shelter in the only part of the home that was still standing after the storm passed. She said when a window in one of the children's bedrooms burst, she and her husband gathered the children and huddled in a closet until the night grew quiet again.

She said she didn't hear the tornado warning sirens until after the storm passed.

The home next door was even more badly damaged. Those residents weren't around Friday, but their neighbor across the street, Timothy Ballinger, was among the first to reach them after the storm struck.

"Came out last night and made it over to the neighbors' there. They got it much worse than we did," Ballinger said as he picked up pieces of shingle and wood from his yard on Greenvalley Circle.

Ballinger, 36, was imagining a "worst-case scenario" as he approached the devastated home, he said.

He said some first responders who showed up as he reached the home's interior took over the rescue effort.

"The elderly couple there, we were starting to clear a path and the lady was sitting [in the living room] in her wheelchair with a plastic bag over her head to keep the rain off."

DeKalb County Emergency Management Agency director Anthony Clifton said officials determined that 17 buildings had minor damage and 27 were "affected" by the tornado with damaged roofs, siding and windows.

"It was really bigger than we first anticipated," Clifton said.

As he walked and surveyed damage at the Jet Polymer Recycling plant on Gault Avenue, EMA deputy director Michael Posey said the tornado's path was just a half-mile off the path taken by an EF2 twister on March 18, 2013, that damaged nearby Fort Payne High School.

Residents will spend the next several days recovering, cleaning up and remembering.

"It was really loud and scary," 17-year-old Jessica Gray said while she picked up clutter from the grounds at Mountain View Apartments on 55th Street.

A limb punctured the roof of the apartment she and her mother, Lisa Holcomb, live in. Jessica, a student at Fort Payne High, didn't make it to school on Friday because of all the damage.

"It's not an option," Jessica said. "Our window's shattered, our roof is leaking, our porch is leaking."

Clifton said three families at the apartment complex were displaced but have accommodations for the next few days while repairs are made.

"Everybody's being taken care of," he said.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at bbenton@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6569.